Cary Audio SLI-80 Integrated Amplifier reflects the commitment to quality that is found in every aspect of what the company does. The SLI-80 is no Manufacturer: Cary Audio Design, Inc., 1020 Goodworth lightweight as it weighs in at 42 pounds Cary audio has Drive, Apex, NC 27539 a firm grip on the abuse that most shipments suffer at 919-355-0010 voice / 919-355-0013 fax, website: the hands of America’s finest shipping companies. Once www.caryaudio.com the unit is unpacked and placed for listening one must Price: $3,000 then unpack the array of ten vacuum tubes that drive the Source: Manufacturer Loan unit. Reviewer: Gary Lea My sample came in the standard black chassis finish with the black anodized aluminum face plate. This is the As fate would have it this review is only partially traditional Cary Audio look with gold lettering, but other complete. I must give a nod to the late, great John colors are available; I am actually quite partial to the blue Steinbeck. Actually it is probably very bad karma to chassis finish that I saw on my last visit to the shop. mention such an esteemed, prolific author in an article The SLI-80 is a Push Pull Ultra Linear Pure Class AB- written by a self-admitted hack, but it is appropriate, if 1 integrated amp. It will produce 80 watts per channel in only in a metaphoric way. I just kept mumbling a very Ultra Linear mode, but at the flip of a very solid switch, familiar line of his as this review unfolded. This was on top of the chassis, it will move to Triode mode at a supposed to be part of a three-part, three-component Cary rated 40 watts per channel. Input sensitivity is rated a Audio review. The idea was simple. Take the Cary Audio .45 volt for full output and the noise and hum rating is DVD 6 player, already stated at -82 dB below full output. Frequency response is reviewed in these pages, 19Hz to 23 kHz +/ hook it up to the Cary - 0.5 dB. Audio SLI-80 integrated There are three amp, and add the Q5er transformers in the speaker system from unit, one power Cary’s subsidiary Audio transformer and Electronic Supply. Build two output a single-manufacturer transformers. Each $7500 system and see of these are EI whether it justified the laminate and price. Alas, “the best laid s i l i c o n - plans of mice and men!” impregnated. The As it turned out about unit uses oil-filled two weeks after arrival c o u p l i n g of the speakers, word capacitors (copper came from the Dan oil filled capacitors Lilley, of AES, that the are available as an decision had been made option). The to not bring the speakers transformers and to market. That, as it capacitors occupy turned out, is a real the back third of shame, as they are great-sounding speakers. Nonetheless, the chassis with the the show goes on, as they say. It is time to turn the critical front two thirds being occupied by the tube array. The eye to the SLI-80 integrated amp. driver compliment consists of two 6922 input buffer Anyone familiar with Dennis Had and his design preamp tubes, two 6SN7 pre driver/phase inverter tubes, philosophies will know that everything turned out of the two 5U4 rectifier tubes, and four 6550 output tubes. The North Carolina shop of Cary Audio is built to very tube sockets are ceramic with silver connector pins. When exacting standards. I have yet to see anything from Cary the time comes to re-tube the unit, the average cost, Audio that was not both aesthetically pleasing and built depending on the choice of tubes and country of origin, to a quality level that few others can match on any scale. will run you approximately $400. From the Jaguar paint finishes to the details of the switch If you are one of those audiophiles who enjoy the gear, Cary Audio equipment reeks of class and quality. warm glow of tubes in your room, you will be very happy The SLI-80 is no exception to this rule. As a matter of with the light produced by this array. During the entire fact, it combines the best of what Cary Audio is all about time I have had the SLI-80, two of the 6550 output tubes in one neat footprint, 7”x17”x16” to be exact. Not much have maintained a very soothing purple plasma glow to bigger than the size of many CD decks. them. Usually this burns off pretty quickly, but I have Unpacking any piece of Cary equipment requires you been very lucky with these two tubes. What a bonus! to pack a lunch and plan on having some friends around On the front panel the unit sports three inputs, CD, to assist in the activity. Boxed inside a box and packed to AUX1, and AUX2. There is also a _” headphone jack right insure that all arrives safe and sound the packaging on the front panel. The unit is also supplied with a compact remote volume control that also provides HW19 MKIII and Thorens 850 turntables, Usher CP6311, functions for muting. Can we get a standing ovation for Soliloquy 6.0i, Monitor Gold 10, AES Q5, and ADD C880 the couch potato within? Now would be a good time to speakers, Kimber Monocle XL, Usher Proton speaker point out one of the few negative observations I found cables and interconnects, Blue Circle power pillows, and with this unit. The supplied remote control was the rather Monster HT 200 conditioners. lightweight and had a somewhat inconsequential feel to After giving this piece of art a good chance to run in it. I have seen and held other remotes produced by Cary I began numerous sessions of critical listening. I pulled Audio and they had the same look and feel of the units out my standard collection of testing CDs and went to they were controlling. This means they were substantial work. On Sheryl Crow’s “Difficult Kind,” from The Globe in weight and feel and silky smooth in operation. This Sessions CD (A&M3145409592) there are two passages remote was a disappointment. Not that it does not work where her voice, if properly reproduced, suddenly takes well, it does. Not that it is uncomfortable in the hand, it on a smoothness and a sweetness that seem to suddenly is. It just seems less than comparable to the rest of the be out of place in the song. It is the perfect vocalization component in look and feel. of tremendous and soulful regret. These two passages The back panel is split in a left channel right channel can send chills down your spine. Played through the SLI- setup with the connections arranged accordingly. All 80, those passages made me squirm, reach for my remote, connectors are top quality and there is a 4-ohm/8-ohm and play them time and time again, because it was just speaker switch. There is also a manually adjustable bias too good not to. When you can sense the aura of a singer with meter jacks for each channel. swirling around, and you cannot only hear the faint On cold winter nights you could probably keep your breath but actually feel it, you know that something very hands fairly warm just standing over it. The Cary SLI-80 magical is happening with the midrange reproduction. is handsome enough to put out on top of a nice cabinet Many people say that tubes add warmth to the music as a show piece. The full duration of its stay with me it and I won’t disagree but when you hear passages like has set on top of our cabinet and has garnered more than this you realize that at times warmth is the correct thing. a few admirable compliments, even from non Nowhere is that more apparent than with the SLI-80. The audiophiles. midrange coming from this little unit is more natural in The full break-in period is around 100 hours for the timbre and quality, to my ears, than anything I have heard SLI-80. Of course, few people who purchase a component from solid state and when compared to the best of tube like this can wait the full 100 hours to sit down and take amps this little guy can stand on his own. What is most a good long listen. The good news for those people is amazing is that it sounds lifelike and after all that is what that the SLI-80 sounds pretty good out of the box and it it is all about. only gets better as it breaks in. From the same track, the opening has the strumming I have owned a few integrated amps over the years. of what sounds like a very processed Fender Telecaster Marantz and Jolida are two that immediately come to and there is some real sparkle within the track. If the mind. While they were very good units in their own right, upper tonal range of your system is overly forward, this and served me very well at the times I owned them, I particular part of the track will sound dry, brittle, and always found that for critical listening, separates were altogether irritating. The highs coming through the SLI- the way to go. In designing integrated amps you 80 were extended and full without any grain. I have heard inevitably deal with challenges of packing everything into numerous amps produce more sparkling and crisp highs a single chassis. Single shared power source, etc. I think I but often with a bit of shrillness or edge attached. The prejudiced myself against the notion of an integrated amp Cary does away with that unpleasant trait and just having the level of finesse and detail that I am used to for produces a very solid and smooth extension in the top these very reasons. end. There is nothing unusual in that for a Cary product. When this unit arrived, I for some unexplained As a matter of fact they are usually stellar performers in reason expected to hear a unit with spot-on midrange, those areas. rolled-off highs, little or no depth of bass, and all the Where it got interesting was in the bottom end. I find dynamic punch of overcooked linguine. I just did not that the one general and often universal tradeoff in tube expect all that much. After all this was an integrated tube amps is the bass, especially in lower power tube amps. I amp. Well, I was in for quite a little surprise. Gregg Dunn fully expected the biggest tradeoff to occur here. We are had warned me that I was in for a treat but I have always talking about an 80/40-watt stereo amp. Oftentimes they had the bent for the separates and I was not quite ready just do not have the punch to produce tight, tuneful bass for what this little unit had to offer. Any reviewer out notes. In comparison to most solid state amps, even ones there who does not admit to having certain favorites and that are lower price point units, the bass just comes up certain biases is probably not being realistic with himself. short. I am not going to tell you that the Cary SLI-80 blew I am no different. By the same token, one who cannot away the top solid state amps in the bass reproduction, admit when he is wrong is not a truly enlightened but I will say that it handled the chores with more guts individual, is he? Time spent with the SLI-80 changed than any other amp of this power that I have ever listened my narrow perspective. I became quite enlightened both to. My old reference Quicksilver KY 88 amps had the metaphorically and physically. ability to produce some serious bass at the same wattage. Associated Equipment: Cary Audio DVD 6, VPI The SLI-80 was able to match them punch for punch and that is saying something. Keb Mo’s “More Than One Way When you compare the cost of a separate amp and Home” from the Just Like You CD (OKeb/Epic EK67136) preamp combo of the same quality and the cost of the contains some very deep bass lines that really drive the extra interconnects the cost seems more like a bargain song. They happen, though, to be a very tuneful anchor and if you are tight for space this unit eats of precious to the track. Amplifiers that are unable to cope with the little real estate in the house. Paula gave it a high WAF! range leave you with a song that sounds more like it is Plus in essence you are getting two different amps in one laced with thumping than true tuneful low register package and to shift between them you simply have to harmony and musicality. Here is where the SLI-80 caught climb out of that chair, walk across the room and flip a me way off guard, especially in the triode mode. It switch. handled every bit of that track with speed and steadiness My buddy Kevin, who just acquired his first high- one would expect out of a top line 100 plus watt solid end tube-based stereo, was simply amazed at how the state amp. SLI-80 reproduced the music. His comment was that the If you have not taken a listen to the soundtrack from music was so much bigger than the amp. He also The Last Samurai, (Elektra 62932-2) you should. Composed suggested we might want to review the unit at his place and arranged by Hans Zimmer and performed by the for an extended period. Hollywood Studio Symphony, it is a masterful blend of I give him high marks for the effort. His comment Zen tranquility and spates of brutal samurai warring all was not lost on me though, as the SLI-80 produces rolled into one stellar performance. The CD provides a quantity and quality of music that one would expect to real gauntlet of dynamic swings and will test the speed get only from larger and much more expensive separates. and composure of any amplifier. The SLI-80 really With this amp, a decent front end source, and a reasonable showed its metal throughout the presentation. From the set of speakers you could put together a system for under soft and delicate wood flute passages, through the $5000 that would be very satisfying for a very long time. melodic picking of June Kuramoto (from the jazz With this amp as the anchor you could invest a bit more ensemble Hiroshima fame) on the Koto to the thundering on a great set of speakers like the Usher CP6311s and a Taiko drums, the SLI handled them all in stride and never better front end source and you can be into a very high faltered in handling the transients. end system for roughly $7,500. That is not small change I presented the unit with a number of different to be sure. On the other hand many people cheerfully speakers and it showed no sign of stress or trouble driving pay three to four times that to get the same level of sound any of them. It pushed large floor standers with the same quality. tenacity it showed smaller monitors. This is an integrated You get bulletproof construction, great aesthetics, amp that can be compatible with a very large and holographic imaging, and magical midrange differing group of speakers. reproduction. Coupling those points with the fact that I ended up listening most of the time to the SLI-80 in the Cary Audio SLI-80 just simply delivers some of the triode mode. Not that the more powerful push-pull mode most enjoyable sound you will find in that price point produced less quality, I just found that with the finesse makes it an item you want to be sure to audition. It may of the triode mode it just sounded better on the majority not be everyone’s cup of tea but this is one very versatile of tracks that I like to listen to and produced enough amp. oomph for the tracks that needed to be handled with Indeed, the best-laid plans of engineers and authority. Many people who like to produce stronger audiophiles can come together. This is a great example sound pressure levels and who are into very bass-heavy of that phenomenon. I will miss it when it finds its way music such as hip hop might find the push-pull mode back to North Carolina! more to their liking. -GL One of the absolute beauties of this unit is the flexibility that it offers its owner. You want party music? For electronica such as The Crystal Method’s “Trip Like Excerpted with permission from The Sensible Sound, Is- I Do” from the Vegas CD (Outpost Recordings OPRD- sue 108, Apr./May ‘06. Subscriptions to TSS can be pur- 30003) flip the switch to push-pull and the SLI-80 serves chased by calling 1-800-695-8439 or writing to: 403 Dar- up enough punch and sass to make you want to get up win Drive, Snyder NY 14226. and shake your moneymaker. Just add club lighting and you are there. You want to enjoy the smooth jazz renditions of Her Highness, Queen Latifah’s “California Dreaming” off her Dana Owens Album CD (A7M b0003435-02)? Turn down the lights, grab a snifter of Grand Centanario Anejo, flip the switch to triode, sit back in your leather chair, and you will be center stage in a smoky little jazz club close enough to reach out and touch the Queen. There will be people who will say that this is a good deal of scratch for a minimal-feature, moderate-power integrated amplifier. I would have to argue that point.